Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is this it? Not at all.

I know its been a long time since my last post, but today I finally have something to share. Its nothing profound, but it is what's in my heart today and I need to say it "out loud." Thanks for reading and for praying.

Over the past two weeks, I have been filling in as a Sunday School teacher for our college group at Liberty Heights. This week, we discussed the very familiar passage in John 3 about being "born again" or "born from above." In the words of Jesus: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God, unless he is born again."

I told the class that the phrase "born again" is often used, but (I think) very little understood. So, I proposed that we discuss two things in this familiar teaching of Jesus: (1) What is the Kingdom of God? (2) What does it mean to be "born again"? After circling the matter many times, this is what I discovered...

For most in the class, being "born again" means "getting saved." And, "getting saved" means "becoming a Christian." And, becoming a Christian means believing in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for your sins, and he is the only way to get to heaven.

Then, I asked the question: "OK, if being born again--getting saved--becoming a Christian, gets you into the Kingdom of God, then what does that look like? What will a Christian in the Kingdom of God look like?"

I wrote their answers in green marker on a dry erase board:
- regularly attending church
- knowing and studying the Bible
- using good language (i.e., no cussing)
- not drinking, smoking, or doing drugs
- wearing the right clothes (i.e., modest and clean)
- giving or tithing
- being nice to people
- doing good things for people

When I saw all these things in writing, I remembered something at once very shocking and very sad: these are the sorts of things the Pharisees and religious folks of Israel were doing when they plotted to have Jesus the Lord crucified.

I told the students this and offered them this observation: Is this really what Jesus died for? Is this really what the Kingdom of God is all about? You're telling me the God of the universe became flesh so that we would be good, well-behaved, well-dressed church members? I don't think so.

I think Jesus announced something much bigger and better than this. I think the Apostles preached and lived and died for something much bigger and better than this. I think Christians all over the globe rise every morning praising and exalting God for something bigger and better than this.

If this is what our college students think the Kingdom of God is all about, then no wonder we have struggled to keep the class alive. No wonder our young people are dropping like flies once they leave our campus and set out on their own. I couldn't buy into a Gospel as small and boring and insignificant as that. Why should they?

I know there's more to it. And, hopefully, you know there's more to it. I pray God gives me (us) the wisdom and passion to communicate this to students and the many others who have been lulled into sleep while "doing church" in middle-class America.


UnderMidnight said...

I can't even come up with a smart-assed comment for this one.

But slightly tangential...

I saw a video on youtube of ann coulter in an interview and she was asked what she thought heaven was going to be like. She replied, "like the republican national convention."
If that is ann coulter's idea of heaven then I believe that is incontrovertible evidence that she really needs to get laid.

traveller said...

The responses you received do not surprise me in the least. Unfortunately, the institutional expression of church has been so domesticated by culture that there is hardly anything left of the concept of God's Kingdom.

I will be praying for you because university/college students are still searching and are willing to listen.

Note to undermight: I think you should consider being a comedian as your life calling. Your comments are.....well....they are enough to make me laugh out loud.

travelah said...

Before I comment, I found this post through The Schooley Files ( thought it might be a good read. I'll emphasize that it is indeed a good read this evening. Far too often we find ourselves in the trappings of church life and regard our walk as something received and taken for granted. To be born from above of the Spirit of God is a radical notion, one even the religious of Israel could not grasp although they be teachers of the law and prophets as Nicodemus illustrated. It is this radicalism that we need to return to, the notion that we become something wholly different from what we once were. These young people need to know that their gift is to abide in Christ and be one with God.

Thanks for a good post.

A.M. Mallett

Anonymous said...

deep thoughts... and what i needed today emily. thanks.

In His Grip,

Mel said...

As always, you have managed to put common western church in a nutshell. What you pointed out, true liberty and freedom in Christ, is why we have such stories like Rahab and Hagar in our Bible! It is also why when going to India, for example, we can dance like loons around a bonfire to techno music proclaiming Jesus is Lord! And not fear God's wrath but instead laugh and delight in His Grace and Love.

Keep challenging us, Em! I love you!

Steve said...

I didn't see it all when I began my walk, but being born again brings newness and belonging to Him.

Lev 26:10 … you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

Heb 8:11 ….for they shall all know me,from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

CharlieMac said...

When I was college age I probably would have answered much the same as your learners.
Today (Too soon old, too late smart?) I hope I would answer that The Kingdom of God is love, agape love. To know God is to love both God and others (all others) Well maybe we can not reach perfect love in the present part of eternal life, but as His children we must strive towards that goal.
God is love. Christ loved. His followers will be known by their love. The kingdom is AGAPE.
Charlie Mac 73

Anonymous said...

Emily, so right on! Can't wait to hear more.


UnderMidnight said...

I just realized that I suck at about everything on that list.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Maybe that's a good thing... :)

Bob Cleveland said...

Hi Emily. I know I'm late to the party but I will note something anyway.

I don't think Jesus was into flawed analogies, and as an ex-presbyterian, I can make a lot out of comparing the the whole process of childbearing with being born again spiritually, but think of one point: when a baby is born, it is the product of two biological materials. One from daddy and one from mommy. After the birth, the child has neither the choice nor the ability to become what it was before the gestation process. The child has become a new creation, made from materials which no longer exist as they were.

I can get all over the idea that the mother and father determine its birth, the baby doesn't (except that the mother enables it by bringing it to term), that the process isn't started by the baby, it's started by the parents, etc etc. But I think you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Emily,
I understand the kingdom of God as the Rule of Jesus in the lives of People. I would hope that the rule of God's Kingship would look like kind, considerate, generous, giving, sober, modest, and worshipping people. I'm pretty sure the Pharisees were not nice to Jesus! Or giving or kind etc. So, I sort of agree with the college kids. I also agree with you that that's not "all" of it.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Rick, I think we're on the same page.

Certainly, the Kingdom of God will form us into the kinds of people who are a part of a Christian community, who love one another, provide for each other's needs, refrain from the sins of the world, etc. But, as you acknowledge, that's not the totality of the reign of God.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that, for a lot of the "churched" kids in our environment, the Christian life has been reduced to a "to do list," whether because of their own misunderstanding or because of the poor instruction they've received in the faith. Either way, keeping a safe, small "to do list" is nothing compared to the risk-taking and dangerous life of faith that you spoke of this morning.

Thanks for your thoughts,


Keith Schooley said...

Hi Emily. Wonderful post. I wish I could have been there to hear what you had to say to the students, and to see their reactions.

Although I agree with Rick (and you) that many of the things your students suggested would, in fact, be part of a truly "born from above" person, not only is that not all there is, but that is not even the most important aspect. We encourage people to display some incidental and not terribly important effects of vibrant faith, instead of inspiring vibrant faith and letting the effects take care of themselves.

Steve said...

When my pastor spoke on legalism, he referred to the things your listeners reported as "boundary markers." I think Landmarkism and legalism are becoming more and more understandable, and, sorry to say, more prominent.

The Martyr said...

yeah it seems every now and then i need to be reminded of who i am living for am i living for myself and i living for other people or am i living for Christ. I sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to do things that will help me personally in the long run. I just rather be helping someone else out and put myself on the back burner. But how can you love others if you dont really love yourself as well. im not saying we should take pride in ourselves and do what most people do and gratify themselves enough to take anothers good nature and kind heart and stomp it to bits. Ive taken to the fact that i can't afford not to be friends with someone because then what am i left with misery. That is what the true fellowship of beleivers is supposed to help. yet we are to busy talking about others that the message gets lost of keeping people from walking away.

Anonymous said...

Just curious....
so what do you think the people in heaven will look like?
I guess I just have always thought that once you are "born again" that you have the Holy Spirit abiding as your conscience making you to want to do those on the list. What are you thoughts?